Singing And Dancing In Dark Times


Harsha Prabhu reports on artists uniting against growing fascism in India, the threat of nuclear war between Indian and Pakistan – and the role Australia can play by stopping the sale of uranium to this nuclear-armed global hotspot.

‘In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
About the dark times.’

The lines from Bertolt Brecht’s poem, The Pied Piper Of Fascism, were written in 1939, when fascism’s shadow darkened Europe. More recently, they were also portrayed on a poster that was part of a protest march of close to 2000 artists, writers, actors, filmmakers, performers, designers and intellectuals. It wound its way for five kilometres through the bustling suburbs of Mumbai, last Saturday evening.

The Mumbai march, mirrored by protest performances scheduled to take place on the weekend in major metros across India – including Bengaluru, Kolkata, Ahmedabad and Chandigarh, culminating in a two-day cultural event in Delhi – was held in solidarity with Artists Unite, a Delhi-based collective, in association with arts collectives and individuals country-wide.

From the Artists Unite website: “As artists and cultural practitioners we dedicate ourselves at this critical moment to defend a culture that speaks of love, equality and solidarity. We will fight hate with love. We will counter violence with peace. Through our images, speech, words, music and bodies we will resist the cultural destruction of India.”

While organisers of the protest pointed out that their aim was not to target any specific political party, the protest happens against a background of growing intolerance, violence and social polarisation that critics suggest is the legacy of the BJP government of Narendra Modi.

(IMAGE: Harsha Prabhu)

Indeed, many of the themes of the posters paraded through the streets of Mumbai highlighted issues that have set Indian society on fire since the election of Modi in 2014, including: mob lynchings by cow-protection vigilantes; attacks on Dalits, Muslims and other minorities; the silencing of dissident voices, including the killings of intellectuals by Hindu right-wing groups; and the ‘saffronisation’ of Indian culture under the Hindutva ideology of the BJP, whose stated aim is to hijack India’s secular, diverse, pluralist culture and morph it into a Hindu nation.

The protest also happens in a climate of increasing cross-border tension between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, the latest flashpoint being the deaths of over 40 Indian security personnel in a suicide attack on Valentine’s Day this year, allegedly at the behest of a Pakistan-based terrorist outfit.

The Modi government responded by sending in the Indian Air Force (IAF) to bomb an alleged terrorist camp in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir on 26th February.

Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi addresses the Paris Climate Talks. (IMAGE: Thom Mitchell, New Matilda)

Kashmir has been a political football for India and Pakistan since their independence from the British in 1947 and the two nations have fought three wars over it.

Apart from the loss of lives via these ‘conventional’ wars, since 1990, over 70,000 Kashmiris have died in the undeclared war in Kashmir, thousands have ‘disappeared’, thousands more have been tortured by the Indian security forces and hundreds have been blinded by pellet guns.

Last year’s death toll was the highest since 2009, including 260 militants, 160 civilians and 150 government forces, prompting the UN to call for an independent investigation into the rapes, torture and extra-judicial killings.

One of the posters on display in the Mumbai march showed a face pockmarked with pellet gun wounds and bloodshot eyes – the face of Kashmiri youth, facing the full brunt of the Indian army and security forces – with the accompanying text adapting the lines from the Bob Dylan song Blowin’ in the Wind: ‘How many times will we turn our heads and pretend that we just cannot see.’

(IMAGE: Harsha Prabhu)

Another poster depicted a torn Kashmiri shawl, superimposed on a photo of Kashmiri youth huddled in a shelter in Chandigarh after they were attacked by mobs post the latest Valentine’s Day suicide bomb. The accompanying text asked: ‘Who should I hate to prove my patriotism, when night engulfs us all?’

One float on the march read out the names of those lynched in mob violence, most of the victims being Muslims and Dalits; another showed masked, anonymous figures, pedlars of hate mail and fake news on social media; another, a line of students reading from doctored text books, a reference to the BJP/Hindutva project of rewriting Indian history. Others danced, beat drums and sang revolutionary songs. The most chilling tableau was a man on stilts, dressed in black, leading a group of subservient souls, shuffling with their heads down, a dark pied piper of fascism.

That pied piper has a message for the rest of the world.


A Dark Agenda

One of the participants in the Mumbai march was Diksha Dwivedi, daughter of Major CB Dwivedi. She held a poster that said: “I lost my father in the Kargil war. I don’t want politicians to start another war to win the upcoming election!!!”

While erecting giant statues to patriots and culture heroes and re-naming roads after right-wing ideologues might distract the gullible from India’s pressing problems – including job losses due to Modi’s demonetisation gambit; attacks on minorities; farmer’s suicides; rising debt, up 50% under Modi – nothing beats war hysteria and hyper nationalism as an election-winning combo.

Karnataka Bharatiya Janata Party chief B.S. Yeddyurappa, was first cab off the rank, commenting one day after the Indian attack: “The atmosphere… day-by-day the wind is increasingly blowing in favour of BJP. Yesterday’s action of destroying terror hideouts by entering inside Pakistan has resulted in a pro-Modi wave in the country, the results of which can be seen in coming Lok Sabha polls…. ”

The BJP has been quick to exploit the latest Indo-Pak skirmish, with election rallies in several states. At a rally in Jaipur last Saturday, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said the BJP would win more seats in 2019 than it did in 2014, as “it is the Modi government that can take on terrorism and provide a strong leadership to the country.” And PM Modi dubbed the Opposition “India haters” at a rally in Tamil Nadu on Friday, for wanting clarification on the contradictory statements made by ministers in his own government over the Indian air strike.

India and Pakistan are both armed with nuclear weapons.

Mainstream Indian media has also become a purveyor of fake patriotism and war porn. Writes Salil Tripathi: “Indeed, the affliction that took hold of some newsrooms was baffling. Network anchors fell over themselves to outdo one another’s displays of patriotism, complete with bizarre visuals of landscapes enveloped in billowing smoke, graphics that would be hazardous to those suffering from epilepsy and hashtags dripping with patriotism, shattering any barrier that may have existed between a state-propaganda channel and a credible news network.’

As armchair patriots spewed venom at anyone daring to question the dominant narrative on social media, Twitter and WhatsApp groups, writer Pankaj Mishra noted: “While a jingoistic mass media brazenly dissembles, social media offers easy escape to many from deep feelings of inadequacy into grandiose notions of self and nation. Having a skilful self-publicist in power has only accelerated a stunningly widespread descent in India into self-aggrandizing fantasy.”

An English lecturer at a college in Assam was suspended for a Facebook post. The post condemning the terror attack on the Indian troops, also criticised the Indian army for its human rights record in Kashmir. A guest lecturer at Delhi University’s Law College was hit by a student for holding a similar view. People have been assaulted in Bengal for holding contrary views, with videos of the assault uploaded on social media.

This divisive agenda has also poisoned young minds, with Muslim parents of schoolchildren in Mumbai reporting that their kids are being taunted in class with slogans like ‘Go back to Pakistan.’

This is no mere child’s play. The stakes are high.

(IMAGE: Harsha Prabhu)

According to Ajai Shukla, former Indian army colonel and an expert in strategic affairs, defence and diplomacy, based in New Delhi: “The wider story in a crisis with such potential devastation, involving, as it does, nuclear powers, is that the Modi government has launched a nationwide anti-Muslim agenda that regards Muslims as unpatriotic, Pakistan as a cunning and implacable foe and Kashmiri separatists as its willing tools.”

Add to this toxic mix the influence of Zionist Israel. Here is Robert Fisk, veteran Middle East correspondent: “For months, Israel has been assiduously lining itself up alongside India’s nationalist BJP government in an unspoken – and politically dangerous – “anti-Islamist” coalition, an unofficial, unacknowledged alliance, while India itself has now become the largest weapons market for the Israeli arms trade.”

(IMAGE: Harsha Prabhu)

Israeli weapons, perfected in the killing fields of Gaza, have been used against the people of Kashmir. And in the latest Indian airstrike in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Along with other countries, Israel is also complicit in arming fascist and genocidal regimes, including apartheid South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Myanmar and Rwanda.

That some of these were headed by antisemitic Nazi sympathisers did not bother the Israeli government. Nor do they seem perturbed by the fact that the founding fathers of Hindutva, the ideological mentors of Modi and the BJP, were admirers of Hitler and his ‘final solution’ for the Jews of Europe.

Apart from the ethical and moral issues raised by this arms trade, the consequences of this new Zionist-Hindutva axis could be deadly – for everyone.


Nuclear Winter

According to Dr Jeff Masters, an expert in weather and air pollution based in the US: “As nuclear-armed India and Pakistan engage in military clashes over the disputed Kashmir region, consider that a ‘limited’ nuclear war between them is capable of causing a catastrophic global nuclear winter that could kill two billion people. The inevitable wars and diseases that would break out could kill hundreds of millions more.”

(IMAGE: Harsha Prabhu)

Dr Ira Helfland, American co-President of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War and author of Nuclear Famine: Two Billion People at Risk – Global Impacts of Limited Nuclear War on Agriculture, Food Supplies, and Human Nutrition, warned that “an exchange of nuclear weapons between the two countries would not only quickly kill millions in the region, but would cause an unprecedented global catastrophe”. Soot lofted into the upper atmosphere as a result of firestorms created by nuclear explosions would severely disrupt the global climate, leading to worldwide crop shortages and mass starvation affecting more than a quarter of the world’s population.”

Writer and activist Arundhati Roy wrote in Huffpost: “By goading Pakistan into a counter-strike, and so making India and Pakistan the only two nuclear powers in history to have bombed each other, Modi has internationalised the Kashmir dispute. He has demonstrated to the world that Kashmir is potentially the most dangerous place on earth, the flash-point for nuclear war. Every person, country, and organisation that worries about the prospect of nuclear war has the right to intervene and do everything in its power to prevent it.”


Global StandOut for Peace

The weekend’s Artists Unite protest in Delhi concluded with a Global StandOut for Peace. This was the declaration read out from Delhi’s historic Red Fort:

“Participants of Global StandOut for Peace in South Asia are citizens across nationalities and borders, standing together in response to escalating tensions between India and Pakistan and the looming fear of war between two nuclear-armed states. 

Today, we join hands in nearly 20 cities globally as part of a citizen-led initiative, calling for an end to violence and the narrative of hate that is behind immense human suffering and tragedy in the region.

The StandOut recognizes the pain of the people of the Jammu and Kashmir region and those who suffer the consequences of the violence. We stand together in calling for peace in the area, and for all issues to be resolved through dialogue. We demand an immediate ceasefire to avoid loss of further precious lives…

As peace loving people alarmed at the mindless military spending across the world, we demand the the immediate convening of the Fourth UN Special Session on Disarmament with an agenda to freeze the arms race and take active steps to speedily move towards the goal of disarmament and peace.”

Arundhati Roy ended her piece with this eloquent plea: “Kashmir is the real theatre of unspeakable violence and moral corrosion that can spin us into violence and nuclear war at any moment. To prevent that from happening, the conflict in Kashmir has to be addressed and resolved. That can only be done if Kashmiris are given a chance to freely and fearlessly tell the world what they are fighting for and what they really want. Dear World, find a way.’

This includes Australia, where both Liberal/National and Labor governments support the sale of uranium to India, mined against the wishes of the traditional Aboriginal custodians of the land and the vast majority of the Australian people.